Cumbrian MP reignites debate over Lake District ‘tourist tax’

Following a tour of his constituency, Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, has launched a survey to ask local people about their views on the idea of levying a tourist tax to raise funds for local infrastructure.

Mr Farron said: “During my recent summer tour, the idea of a tourist tax was mentioned on numerous occasions as a way of tourism being able to more directly benefit local communities. Heavy government cuts mean local authorities have less and less money and so we need to explore more avenues to raise money to cope with an increasing number of people visiting the Lake District.’’

“However, tourism plays such a vital role for our economy so any new scheme that is brought in must not be so drastic that it puts people off visiting our beautiful part of the world. That’s why I want to hear from local residents about whether or not a tourist tax is a good idea, and if so how they would like to see it work.”

According to Cumbria Tourism, in 2017 Cumbria and the Lake District received more than 47 million visitors, made up of 40.7 million day trippers and 6.6 million overnight visitors. These visitors brought in £2.9 billion to the region’s economy, meaning that an additional tourist tax could be worth millions to the area. The money raised would help to improve local infrastructure such as car parks, toilets and roads for both visitors and residents.

Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said that the body recognised that public sector finances were “much reduced” in Cumbria, resulting in services for visitors being “significantly reduced”. She said, “Whilst Cumbria Tourism would be open to discussions that explore this subject, it’s critically important that we recognise the significant contributions the tourism sector already makes to the county’s economy, the contribution it makes to the quality of the county as a place to live and to understand the impact such a levy might have on visitor behaviour.”

Lake District hotelier Jonathan Denby described the suggestion of a tax as “a diabolically bad idea”. Mr Denby, who owns South Lakes Hotels, added that tourism taxes worked elsewhere because other taxes were far lower than in the UK. He said, “Tim should remember that we are competing internationally and if we want to keep on welcoming visitors from overseas our prices have to be competitive. An extra tax will make us more unattractive compared with other destinations.”

Tourist tax, also known as occupancy or bed tax, is a levy that is usually charged per person, per night. It is charged on top of the cost of a holiday, and is paid directly by guests to hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campsites.

Many European countries already impose occupancy taxes on visitors, including Austria, France, Italy, Portugal and Switzerland.

So far, nowhere in the UK has imposed a tourist tax. The issue has been widely debated in cities such as Edinburgh and London. Edinburgh Council has been pushing for a tourist tax in Scotland since 2011, on the basis that a £1 a night bed charge could generate an estimated £11 million a year for the city.

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